BILOXI, Miss. – Republican presidential candidate and self-described "recovering foodaholic" Mike Huckabee told Southern governors Saturday that an obesity epidemic could cause serious problems for the American economy, and even for national security.
"Today we hear a lot about the War on Terror, how we need to fight it," said Huckabee, who lost 110 pounds several years ago when he was governor of Arkansas. "Let me ask this question: Who's going to fight it in the future if we're a generation so sick that we don't have the capacity to show up for work?"
Huckabee also told an audience at the Southern Governors' Association convention that obesity is creating the first generation of Americans who might not live as long as their parents.
Huckabee — who left office in January after having been governor since July 1996 — implemented several programs to battle weight problems in Arkansas, including having public schools measure students' body fat.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, said during the panel discussion that the eight fattest states in the nation are all in the South.
"I don't know that fried has anything to do with it," Barbour said. "But we weren't raised eating right in the South. But the good news is we can do something about it."
Dr. William Rowley, who worked 30 years as a vascular surgeon and now works at the Institute for Alternative Futures, said 61 percent of U.S. active-duty military personnel are overweight.
Huckabee said that statistic disturbs him.
"You've got a serious situation with a generation of kids coming up so unhealthy they won't be able to pass the military physical," Huckabee said in an interview after the panel discussion. "We keep talking about the war on terror — who's going to fight it if we don't have enough people who are healthy enough to show up and pick up a backpack?"